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Sharron Kraus — Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers (18th May, 2015)

Sharron Kraus — Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers (18th May, 2015)

  Sharron Kraus — Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers (18th May, 2015)
♣   Sharron Kraus is a singer, musician and songwriter who both defiantly recasts and tenderly cherishes the folk traditions of England and Appalachia. Her songs tell intricate tales of rootless souls, dark secrets and earthy joys, the lyrics plucked as sonorously as her acoustic guitar.
♣   British singer/songwriter Sharron Kraus is very much in the school of subdued yet haunting, at times foreboding progressive British folk music of artists that flourished in the 1960s and 1970s such as Shirley Collins and Bert Jansch. Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and the Violent Femmes are also mentioned as inspirations on the credits to her first album. But really, Kraus is far more British than any of those artists in her approach with both respects to her material and instrumentation, though she does share a bent for brooding darkness with the likes of Cohen and Waits.
Location: Machynlleth, Wales ~ Sheffield, United Kingdom
Instruments: Vocals, guitar, banjo.
Styles: British Folk, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter, Folksongs, Traditional Folk
Album release: 18th May, 2015
Record Label: Clay Pipe Music / Urp Music Distribution
Duration:     44:23
Tracks:
1. My Friend’s Enemy      4:23
2. The Hunter      3:39
3. Branwen      5:48
4. A Hero’s Death      5:38
5. The Birds of Rhiannon      6:16
6. A Quiet Place      6:04
7. Farewell      4:33
8. Blodeuwedd      3:41
9. Stranger In Your Land      4:21
Personnel:
♣   Sharron Kraus: vocals, guitar, recorders, bowed dulcimer, organ, percussion
♣   Harriet Earis: harp
♣   Nancy Wallace: vocals
♣   Nick Palmer: piano   © Sharron Kraus & Harriet Earis — Y Feri Lwyd, Ch. Day in the Morning was last modified, December 23rd, 2013 by Alex Gallacher
Notes:
♣   12″ LP, 500 numbered copies, reverse board mat cover, with fully illustration booklet, and download code.
Review
Written by Helen Gregory 14 April, 2015
♣   For her new album, Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers, singer/songwriter and musician Sharron Kraus has drawn inspiration from the Mabinogi, a medieval Welsh collection of 11 stories generally accepted to be the earliest prose literature of the British Isles. The tales are often believed to be based on much earlier oral traditions, possibly dating back to pre–Christian Celtic mythology and, it must be said, do make compelling reading.
♣   Brimming with magical creatures, shape–shifting, kings and queens, heroes and legends, tribal raids and power struggles, love and loss, the Mabinogion has inspired many artists and musicians across the generations. If you’ve ever read the Mabinogi, been drawn into the worlds described in the tales, it’s easy to understand the book’s attraction — although, as Sharron says, it can be a head–scratching read:
♣   “I started off writing the songs as a way of getting to grips with what was happening in the stories, trying to understand things that at first seemed confusing to me, and quickly got sucked in to a strange and wonderful world. I fell in love with these stories whilst being mystified by them and the process of wrestling them into song form has been one of the most challenging and rewarding of my song writing projects to date.” © I got the chance to sing with Clare Button – a joy, as ever. I’m just sorry that she returned afterwards to a Scotland that hadn’t mustered enough votes to fly the UK nest.
♣   Musically, Sharron’s interpretations are impressionistic and highly atmospheric while her lyrics are clear and concise. In passing, the booklet accompanying the record is a work of art in its own right; Frances Castle’s illustrations are a delight and each song’s lyrics are reproduced along with quotes from the pertinent part of the Mabinogi (Sioned Davies’ translation) and Sharron’s own brief summary.
♣   The opening My Friend’s Enemy finds its inspiration in the First Branch of the Mabinogi; the story of Pwyll, prince of Dyfed, his fight against the enemy of Arawn, lord of the Otherworld and Arawn’s rival, the enigmatic Hafgan. The violence and uncertainty in the tale are reflected in Sharron’s vocal dissonance and the musical arrangement which evokes the clashing ebb and flow of battle and the doubts and compromises implicit in the forging of political and military alliances between humans and deities. A further strand of the First Branch is explored in The Hunter, which describes Pwyll’s first sight of Rhiannon, another deity from the Otherworld, his instant falling in love with her and consequent pursuit of her. The arrangement mirrors the lyric’s sense of anticipation with sweet, billowing harmonies and some gentle multitracked recorders over a quietly insistent guitar.
♣   The Second Branch of the Mabinogi provides the tale of Branwen, the daughter of Llyr (a sea god) and wife of Matholwch, king of Ireland, whose mistreatment of Branwen ultimately provokes a terrible war between the two islands tantamount to genocide. Sharron’s first person narrative is a striking reminder of the high price that women and girls (human or otherwise) pay when men go to war. Harriet Earis’ harp introduces a note of foreboding to the tension of the arrangement and Sharron’s voice evokes the pointlessness and immeasurable personal loss experienced by women caught in armed conflicts. A Hero’s Death derives its inspiration from another strand in Branwen’s tale and Sharron again raises pertinent questions about familial rivalry and men who are quick to anger and slow to learn. The arrangement has its own inexorable momentum, light and shade flickering like flames in the dark, building to its inevitable conclusion.
♣   When the war has ended, the seven survivors under the command of the mortally wounded Bran (Branwen’s brother) find respite in the Otherworld where, as Sharron notes, they feast whilst The Birds of Rhiannon sing to them more sweetly than any earthly birds. Following the death of Bran, Pryderi and Manawydan return home to Wales in search of A Quiet Place, only to find their dream coming true in an unexpected and unwelcome way when an enchantmentment befalls them, taking them to a Wales that seems to exist in a parallel world and which, although beautiful — “lush and green” — is empty of people. They realise that they must leave this Otherworldly Wales and Farewell records, not only their feelings, but also Sharron’s own sadness at leaving mid Wales at the end of her own sojourn there. Taken together, this triptych of songs — The Birds of Rhiannon, A Quiet Place and Farewell — creates a reflective mood entirely in keeping with the original tales, by turns dreamy, haunting and sad throughout which Nancy Wallace’s harmonies blend beautifully with Sharron’s clear, high voice while Harriet’s harp and Sharron’s dulcimer and recorder drift in and out like clouds across a sunny sky.
♣   Blodeuwedd is a central figure in the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi, a woman made of flowers by two magicians, Gwydion and Math, to create a wife for the hero Lleu Llaw Gyffes. She falls in love with another man and the pair conspire to murder Lleu, a plan which misfires. As a result, one of the magicians turns Blodeuwedd into an owl, the bird hated by all others. While the story has been adapted many times — Alan Garner’s The Owl Service is possibly the most well–known — Sharron’s interpretation is set apart from the rest by retelling it in a first–person narrative, from the point of view of Blodeuedd herself, bringing an unexpected, but welcome, feminist perspective to the lyric.
“Out of flowers I was formed
A woman made not born
Conjured up into life
To be a stranger’s wife”
♣   Stranger in Your Land brings the record to its close; while this part of the Second Branch of the Mabinogi contains some particularly dark passages as it picks up Manawydan’s story after leaving Wales, Sharron’s interpretation opts instead to expand on the impact of leaving one’s home and the associated complexities of settling somewhere new, strange and hostile. The theme develops the idea of hiraeth expressed so well in Farewell and the major key of this meditative arrangement closes the album in a way which is both bittersweet yet optimistic; the interweaving almost call–and–response vocals are particularly striking.
♣   http://www.folkradio.co.uk/
Website: http://www.sharronkraus.com/
MySpace: https://myspace.com/sharronkraus
Bandcamp: https://sharronkraus.bandcamp.com/album/friends-and-enemies-lovers-and-strangersAbout:
♣   Sharron Kraus is a singer of folk songs, a songwriter and multi–instrumentalist whose solo work and collaborations offer a dark and subversive take on traditional music. As well as drawing on the folk traditions of England and Appalachia, her music is influenced by gothic literature, surrealism, myth and magick. Her songs tell intricate tales of rootless souls, dark secrets and earthly joys, the lyrics plucked as sonorously as her acoustic guitar.
♣   She has released five solo albums, the first of which, ‘Beautiful Twisted’, was named by Rolling Stone in their Critics’ Top Albums of 2002. As well as her solo work, Sharron has recorded an album of traditional songs — ‘Leaves From Off The Tree’ — with Meg Baird and Helena Espvall of Espers, written an album of songs to celebrate the seasons of the year — ‘Right Wantonly A–Mumming’ — which was recorded with some of England’s finest traditional folk singers including Jon Boden, Fay Hield and Ian Giles — as well as recording and performing as a duo — Rusalnaia — with Ex Reverie’s Gillian Chadwick, with Tara Burke (Fursaxa) as Tau Emerald and with Irish free–folk collective United Bible Studies.
♣   Sharron has been featured in The Wire, fRoots, Uncut, The Sound Projector and Dirty Linen, and is one of the musicians focussed on in Jeanette Leech’s Seasons They Change: The Story of Acid, Psych and Experimental Folk. She has appeared on Radio 3’s ‘The Verb’, and recorded sessions for BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio Shropshire, Freakzone on Radio 6, and independent radio stations across the US.
♣   Sharron’s latest album, ‘Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers’, a collection of songs inspired by the Welsh Mabinogi folk tales, is released on Clay Pipe Music.  
Discography:
√   2002 — Beautiful Twisted CD (Camera Obscura)
√   2003 — Yuletide CD (Elsie and Jack); a collaboration with The Iditarod
√   2004 — Songs of Love and Loss CD (Camera Obscura)
√   2006 — The Black Dove CD (Tompkins Square); a collaboration with Christian Kiefer
√   2006 — Leaves From Off the Tree CD/LP (Bo’Weavil); a collaboration with Meg Baird and Helena Espvall
√   2007 — Right Wantonly A–Mumming CD (Bo’Weavil); with Jon Boden, John Spiers, Ian Giles, Fay Hield, Ian Woods, Michael Tanner, Claire Lloyd, Graham Metcalfe and Giles Lewin
√   2008 — The Fox’s Wedding CD (Durtro)
√   2008 — Rusalnaia CD (Camera Obscura); a collaboration with Gillian Chadwick
√   2008 — Travellers Two CD (Important); Tau Emerald, a collaboration with Tara Burke
√   2010 — The Woody Nightshade CD/LP (Strange Attractors Audio House)
√   2013 — Pilgrim Chants and Pastoral Trails CD (Second Language Music)
√   2015 — Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers (Clay Pipe Music / Urp Music Distribution)
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Sharron Kraus — Friends and Enemies; Lovers and Strangers (18th May, 2015)

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